BWW Reviews: Fantastic and Festive HOLIDAY POPS Brings Christmastime Cheer to Providence
There may be no more merry way to ring in the Christmas season than to spend two hours in the company of the Boston Symphony. The Esplanade Orchestra, under the direction of Keith Lockhart, is in the thick of its annual Holiday Pops performances, and this year's tour also marks the release of the BSO's latest Christmas album, A Boston Pops Christmas - Live from Symphony Hall.
The Orchestra featured several songs from the new CD during its December 13 visit to the Providence Performing Arts Center, including a very clever, crowd-pleasing rendition of "The 12 Days of Christmas." This arrangement starts off with the familiar "12 Days" carol, and then quickly transitions into a pastiche of musical styles. Each verse surprises and delights, incorporating tunes ranging from Rodgers and Hammerstein standards to an homage to Freddie Mercury; Lockhart even sportingly performs a can-can routine during the "Nine Ladies Dancing" section.
As always, Lockhart's conducting is a joy to watch. He leads the Esplanade Orchestra decisively, with complete confidence and seemingly effortless grace, and he is ever-personable and cordial in his interactions with an audience. Both Lockhart's cheerful good humor and his consummate professionalism are evident every time he steps up to the podium.
The precise and superbly talented members of the Esplanade Orchestra perform a stirring "Waltz of the Flowers" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, a joyous arrangement of their signature "Sleigh Ride," and a show-stopping "Farandole" from Bizet's L'Arlésienne. Lockhart fittingly quipped that "Farandole" is "a fun piece for showing off your orchestra."
Special musical guests have joined with the BSO for the 2013 Holiday Pops tour. The 100-member Metropolitan Chorale of Brookline greatly impresses not only with its outstanding vocal talent, but with its exceptional charisma. The Chorale members raise their voices to join the Pops in triumphant performances of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" and a beautifully-arranged "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"; later, they keep perfect time with the vibrant, swiftly-changing "12 Days" and don festive headpieces to accompany the audience during the Pops' traditional Christmas Sing-Along.
Metropolitan conductor Lisa Graham also takes the podium to lead the Chorale in the lively Hanukkah song "Ocho Kandelikas." Graham is a spellbinding maestro, balletic in her direction, and she has a great connection with her performers on stage.
Bass-baritone Justin Hopkins' rich, full voice impresses during each of his featured numbers. He gives a mature, grounded performance of Vaughn Williams' "Fantasia on Christmas Carols," strikes a playful and cheery note in "Christmas is A-Comin'," and brings a reverent respect to the contemporary classic "Mary, Did You Know?"
In addition, former Providence mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci, Jr. teamed up with Lockhart and the Pops for a charming recital of Clement C. Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas. This was Cianci's seventh appearance with the Holiday Pops, and he and Lockhart have built up a good-natured, teasing rapport that enjoyably frames the reading of Moore's famed Christmastime story.
The Esplanade's tour ends this weekend, but there are still opportunities to make the Holiday Pops part of your Christmas plans with shows scheduled through December 31, 2013 at Symphony Hall in Boston. For a full listing of the Orchestra's touring calendar, or to book tickets for Christmastime and New Year's Pops performances at Symphony Hall, please visit www.bostonpops.org.
Photo credit: Stu Rosner